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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Merciful Discipline 6: Humbled, We Shine

This is the sixth post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 6: Humbled, We Shine

‘When You disciplined us, we could barely whisper a prayer.’ (IS 26:16)

‘Christ’s abiding presence in the midst of our suffering is gradually transforming our darkness into light.’ Pope Benedict

The sexual abuse crisis in the Church brings us to our knees. We do not kneel politely but painfully, a sprawl rather than a pose. On behalf of those felled by the weight of a priest’s perversion, we too stumble and fall. Behold the scandal we share: the Greek word ’skandalon’ means stumbling block, a sizable obstacle in the path of another’s salvation.

Pope Benedict is right. Our ‘skandalon’ has “obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”

Lent redeems our falling by redirecting it. Lent points us to another stumbling block, the Crucified Christ (1Cor 1:23), who draws us magnetically to Himself amid the suffering and shame of abuse and its cover-up. He invites us to fall forward into Himself, the sole Source that can bear the unbearable. Any momentum toward obliterating the stumbling block of sexual abuse in the Church begins facedown before the Cross. We repent for the disintegration of lives, the shattering of trust, and how abuse mocks the Church and her championing the dignity of each life.

Shame is transformed into substantial good at the Cross. Just as there is a momentum to the evil of abuse, fanning out like fissures from an earthquake, so repentance before the Crucified overcomes evil. Jesus Himself assumes the web of wounds and rouses the darkened Church, preparing her to shine once more. Our resurrection is founded on His justice and mercy. We arise in humbled passion for the integrity of our Church.

Brimming with new life, we must act. Shame’s transformation requires more than mystical transactions. Will we follow Benedict’s call to bear witness with our very lives of a transparent, integrated Church who lives the truths she upholds?

From the beginning of his papacy, Benedict faced a hemorrhaging crisis of abuse. He realized that the dignity of all people, beginning with the education of children, required the transparent integrity of the Church. To him, sexual abuse was more than an isolated problem of priestly perversion; it signaled a disturbing shift in the entire culture toward sexual values that dehumanized others.

‘Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and crude manipulations of sexuality so prevalent today.’ (Address to US Bishops, 2008)

Degradations and manipulations like the priestly abuse of children! More than ever, we need a humbled witness from the top down of sexual integration. What does it mean to live chastely? How do we acquire self-control and pass it on to a generation already exposed to more filth than at any other time in history?

The church must reclaim its beautiful (and bravely counter-cultural) teaching on chastity–beginning with her priests. We must discover together how Jesus and His community help us to actually integrate God’s will for our sexuality into the fabric of our real lives. That means more than preaching another round of conservative sexual ethics; we must also wrestle honestly with our ‘ethos’–our desires and conflicts.

Jesus wants to transform our hearts–our affections, our attitudes, our motives– that we might embody a living morality. Repentance before the Crucified is key. While sexual abuse is the ultimate ‘disintegrator’, Jesus’ redeeming power in our lives always points to integration, toward wholeness. The stench of abusive priests must be overcome by the fragrance of those priests who live chaste lives through the cross and its community. Following their good lead, we too can embody what it means to offer our chaste selves to one another.

We the laity must do our part. As the numbers of priests are declining, we must increase our commitment to transparent service of the Church. We can ensure that our dioceses have solid systems in place for responding quickly and impartially to abuse charges, and especially to the abused. These systems must become normative!

The abuse crisis has struck an inspired blow against clericalism. It has altered her ‘in-house’ mentality, and she is learning to yield substantial control to empowered laity and civil authorities. As with any organizational shift in values and praxis, this will require time and vigilance on the part of all.

Change takes time. Change is taking place. We now have a better grasp of the horror of priestly abuse and how to prevent it than we had 10 years ago. In spite of our problems, the US Church has exemplified candor for the worldwide Church whose abuses are just beginning to be revealed. Their ‘skandalon’ is ours; we have much yet to endure. We can do so through the One who endured all in order to transform our shame into glory.

Abuse has struck us down, but we are not destroyed. (2Cor 4:9) Our dying is not fatal. We see life-signs–the fruit of God’s purifying, disciplining hand. He is judging clericalism, and inspiring a more humble, candid hierarchy; He is weeding out ill-equipped candidates for the priesthood and empowering solid clerics and laity; He is calling the Church to a new integrity in how she embodies her truth.

Merciful discipline. God is having His way with His Bride.

‘The truth must come out; without the truth we will never be set free. We must face the truth of the past; repent it; make good the damage done. And yet we must move forward day by day along the painful path of renewal, knowing that it is only when human misery encounters face-to-face the liberating Mercy of God that our Church will be truly restored and enriched.’ Dublin Archbishop Martin, 2010

‘We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, leading to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church.’ John Paul II

‘For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines forth like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.’ (IS 62:1)

MORE:

The Merciful Discipline Series of Posts (updated with each new post as they become available):

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Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditations, 2

This is the second post of my Holy Week Meditations for 2012. Please click here for the archive list of posts as they become available.

Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditation, 2

Luke 7: 36-50 introduces us to Mary Magdalene. Mercy drew her out of fear and shame, and compelled her to offer herself to Him. Jesus embodied that Mercy for a prostitute. Imagine that: a kind, strong, handsome man who only wanted her good, nothing from her but her dignity. And a holy man who did not fear her and the entanglement of desires she lay at His feet.

She wept and lingered there. His Mercy was magnetic, a good match for her courage in abiding there as the Pharisee looked on aghast. She demonstrated from the start the transformation of intimacy: abundant Mercy provoking a wholehearted response.

Weeping and lingering. What else better defines intimate reliance upon another but weeping and lingering? Love alone provokes tears for another; love alone compels us to wait, to abide, to linger. These simple expressions of intimacy—tears and lingering—are the basis for Mary’s authority.

In Christ, this woman of many men recognized the Real Thing—the Source of unfailing love. Perhaps some of us have experienced times where Mercy drew us out and compelled us to pour out our broken hearts before Him. Mercy primed us, the dam broke, and we arose from the puddle grateful and slightly embarrassed.

The challenge? Walking out the ‘encounter.’ A weepy interlude based on recognizing the Christ must become ongoing reliance upon Him. Divine romance is easy; marriage is hard. Long after the chemical charge, we wake up in a lonely bed and must make the daily effort to probe the unseen Reality of Christ-with-us.

Mary helps us here. Soon after her encounter with the Luke 7 account, we become aware that Magdalene was among a small group of women who accompanied the disciples and Jesus as He traveled from one town to another; according to Scripture, these women provided for the Kingdom band with their own funds. (Lk 8: 1-3)

In other words, she followed Him. Her surrender to Him was ongoing and included her time, her money, and what we can assume were ongoing gestures of care. Matthew describes Mary and her band of Jesus’ supporters as those who followed Him in order ‘to care for His needs.’ (Matt. 27:55)

Caring for Jesus’ needs. How do we do that today? Certainly by spending time with Him, taking in His Words, exhaling ours, giving Him the treasure of our time. And by advancing His rule and reign by offering ourselves to those we love most, which must include the lost and least if we are to care for those He loves most.

We can assume that Mary’s intimacy with Jesus involved both prayerful lingering before Him, and weeping with those who weep. His Kingdom became hers; she immersed herself in His world. Mary Magdalene embodied the words of St. Faustina Kowalska: ‘The more I have known You Jesus, the more I desire You.’

This is the bond He loves, a bond He vows not to break, an intimacy with us that surpasses whatever kingdom He called us out of. Dylan was right: ‘You gotta serve somebody’, be it a pimp, a fantasy, or your own defended self.

Like Mary, let’s seek and serve Jesus. Let us depend on Him. He offers us Mercy, His beauty, unseen but more real and true than any of His creations. Truly He is worthy of our surrender, a life yielded to His.

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Perseverance and Mercy

Join us today at 3pm (CST) as we intercede for loved ones in need of God’s mercy.

Perseverance and Mercy

40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012 – Day 40

O great day, in which divine love will be confirmed in me. On that day, for the first time, I shall sing before heaven and earth the song of the Lord’s fathomless Mercy. This is my work and my mission, which the Lord has destined for me from the beginning of the world. (825)

Come close to My wounds and draw from the Fountain of Life…Drink copiously from this Fountain of Life and you will not weary on your journey. (1466)

Let us revive in ourselves an attraction toward heaven that calls us to carry on our earthly pilgrimage. Let us lift in our hearts the desire to unite ourselves to the family of the saints, of which we already have the grace to be a part. Pope Benedict

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another onto love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10: 22-25)

Jesus, keep our feet in the Mercy pool and are eyes heavenward. May we draw from all the means of Mercy you have provided, that we would be faithful and unflagging in the fight for souls. Thank You for the witness of Your precious sister and ours, St. Faustina. With her we pray: ‘O Blood and Water, that gushes forth from the heart of the Savior as Fount of Mercy for us all, we trust in You!

For the complete 40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012, click here to download.  For a paper copy, United States only, please call Desert Streams Ministries at (866) 359-0500. 

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry from the diary is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote. Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska – Divine Mercy in My Soul (Association of Marion Helpers, Stockbridge, MA 01263) is available through the publisher or Amazon.com

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Mercy for a Broken Church

Join us today at 3pm (CST) as we intercede for loved ones in need of God’s mercy.

Mercy for the Broken Church

40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012 – Day 37

Observing myself and those who are close to me, I have come to understand how great an influence I have on other souls, not by heroic deeds, but by small actions like the movement of a hand, a look, and many other things too numerous to mention, which effect and reflect in the souls of others. (1475)

I find pleasure, not in large buildings and magnificent structures, but in a pure and humble heart. (532)

We ‘prepare God’s people for works of service…so that the body of Christ may be built up…and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ (Eph. 4: 12, 13)

Jesus, raise up Your Magdalene army. You did not suffer in vain; You suffered to raise up a people pleasing to You, that would live only from Your Mercy and live only for extending that Mercy. Send us as a gift to Your Church.

For the complete 40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012, click here to download.  For a paper copy, United States only, please call Desert Streams Ministries at (866) 359-0500. 

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry from the diary is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote. Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska – Divine Mercy in My Soul (Association of Marion Helpers, Stockbridge, MA 01263) is available through the publisher or Amazon.com

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Merciful Discipline 5: Hopeful, We Fight for the Dignity and Integrity of Our Priests

This is the fifth post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 5: Hopeful, We Fight for the Dignity and Integrity of Our Priests

The fine work and selfless dedication of the great majority of priests should not be obscured by the transgressions of some. – Pope Benedict

I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do what is in My heart and mind, and his house will be firmly established. (1 Samuel 2:15)

As a new Catholic, I have a fresh appreciation for the honorable, difficult office of the priest. I rely upon three priests in my parish for daily Mass and confession; each has exemplified Jesus in a way that puts me to shame. Decades of involvement in the evangelical church have not prepared me for the spirit of sacrifice and humility that I see in these three men. I have grown in virtue through their service to Jesus. As I seek to honor Christ, I am committed to honor them, His priests.

The essential role of the Roman Catholic priest plays in the life of each congregant grants us a powerful opportunity. We who benefit from his offering can fight for his dignity, his renewal and his integrity. How? We can prayerfully encourage him and verbally champion him amid the scorn now associated with his office due to the perversion of a few.

We must not mimic the world and bite the hand that feeds us. We uphold him in gratitude and ask for eyes to see the phantom hand that slaps him with each new exposure of priestly abuse. Well over 96% of priests have clean hearts and hands. Might our honor of them be their balm?

Out of these scandals, the entire Church, beginning with her priests, can avoid the pitfalls that made a handful of priests deadly to their sheep. And we the sheep have a role to play in understanding these vulnerabilities and prayerfully empowering our priests to avoid them.

The John Jay Report (‘The Causes and Context of the Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the USA from 1950-2010’) cites the sexual revolution—the moral and socio-cultural quake that occurred in the sixties and seventies, as the driving influence that multiplied the number of sexual abuses by priests in that time period. A moral ozone layer burned off and all of us, including priests, experienced a new nakedness. That ‘unveiling’ was not adequately countered by Catholic seminaries in their choice of candidates and in the sexual formation needed to prepare priests for the moral challenges ahead.

Especially hard hit were priests who suffered from poor social adjustment and who lacked the capacity to form adequate bonds with colleagues. Already isolated, these priests would tend to pursue teenagers—targets who were sexually ‘mature’ but emotionally undemanding.

Add to this the easy access to virtual pornography that an isolated priest might employ to stoke unattended, unacknowledged desires with any false image he chooses.

Cowardly, evil, worthy of the indignation Cardinal Ratzinger expressed in his pre-papal meditation for Good Friday 2005 when he lamented: ‘How much filth there is in the Church, and even those in the priesthood who ought to belong entirely to Him!’

We also must seek to understand these vulnerabilities. Priests who abuse are essentially disintegrated, having never done the hard work of being reconciled to their sexual selves. That requires hard work for a celibate, and for those mentoring him. To know one’s desires and needs and to work them out fruitfully with others while remaining pure: that is chastity. And it is an expression of integrity that we must insist on for our priests.

We must pray and prod for priestly training in self-awareness, mutual confession, and healthy, transparent friendship. That lines up with Benedict’s commitment. In 2008, addressing the US Church in light of the abuse crisis, he said: ‘We [the Vatican] will do all that is possible in the education of seminarians for a deep spiritual, human, and intellectual formation for the students. Only solid persons can be admitted to the priesthood and only persons with a deep personal life in Christ…’

Out of such training, in an increasingly disintegrated world, let us pray that St. Paul’s words may be exemplified by our priests as they stand “blameless and pure, children of God in a crooked and perverse generation, in which they shine like stars in the universe as they hold out the Word of life.” (Phil. 2: 15, 16)

O my Jesus, I beg You on behalf of the whole Church, give us holy priests. You Yourself, maintain them in holiness. O Divine and Great High Priest, may the power of Your Mercy accompany them everywhere and protect them from the devil’s traps and snares which are continuously set for the souls of priests. May the power of Your Mercy, O Lord, shatter and bring to naught all that might tarnish the sanctity of priests, for You can do all things. (1052) St. Faustina

It is more important to have good priests than to have many priests. – Pope Benedict

MORE:

The Merciful Discipline Series of Posts (updated with each new post as they become available):

 

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